Reopening suit goes to mediation, standardized tests returning, revenue declines, fall sports and more

Mediation for lawsuit: The lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s executive order to reopen schools for students five days a week this month is headed to mediation Tuesday between lawyers for the state and the state’s largest teachers union. The mediation begins at 9 a.m. and must conclude by midnight, Judge Charles Dodson ruled, after declining Friday to dismiss the case as the state requested. The Florida Education Association said the reopening order violates the state constitution requirement of a safe and secure education for students. “This is a case that cries out for the parties to come together and come up with a resolution at mediation,” Dodson said. “I am confident that if you work really hard you can do that.” If they can’t, a hearing will be held Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. in Dodson’s court. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Gradebook. WFSU. WTXL.

Standardized tests are back: The Florida Department of Education announced Friday that students would be required to take standardized tests during this school year. Last spring the tests were postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. The statewide exams for reading, math and science in certain grades, and end-of-course tests, are used to assess their progress and to help form grades for schools and districts. The DOE also said that it will use about $8 million in federal coronavirus aid to pay for ACT and SAT tests for public high school students chosen by districts. The purpose of the program is to give disadvantaged students at least one chance to take a test that could help them get into college. Florida Phoenix.

Budget problems: Florida economists are now estimating that the coronavirus pandemic will depress the state’s general revenues by $3.42 billion in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, and another $2 billion the following year. Florida’s education funding is heavily dependent on general revenues, which have declined since last spring. The state has $5.8 billion in federal coronavirus aid, but the law requires that the money be spent only for pandemic-related expenses, not to shore up budget deficits. “To the extent that funds cannot be used to fill revenue shortfalls or offset current appropriations when they are used for pandemic related purposes, or if additional COVID-19 related expenditures are required, the ending balance shown in this outlook will be lower, potentially becoming negative,” the economists said. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Fall sports are on: The Florida High School Athletic Association’s board of directors went against medical advice when it voted Friday to allow districts to begin practices Aug. 24 and games to start as early as Sept. 4. Schools that want to participate in the state playoffs have to begin before Sept. 18, though districts can choose to delay their seasons and forego the playoffs. The organization’s medical advisory board had recommended waiting until Sept. 28 to begin practices. “Until this virus is given the respect it deserves to quiet down, introducing sports adds fuel to the fire,” said Dr. Jennifer Maynard, head of the committee. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Florida Phoenix. Florida Times-Union. Tampa Bay Times. Lakeland Ledger. Daily Commercial. WEAR. Less than half of Florida’s districts have settled on dates when practices and games will begin. High School Football America. WTXL.

Schools and positive tests: Gov. Ron DeSantis is making the case that school officials should take a measured approach in reacting to positive coronavirus cases instead of automatically closing schools. “I’ve been able to talk to a number of superintendents who have already started this week, and I think they’re approaching it very smartly,” DeSantis said during a roundtable discussion on mental health issues Friday in Sarasota. “Somebody is on a school bus and they’re ill, then you send them home, and if parents have a child that’s ill, then you keep them home. I think doing a more surgical approach like that makes much more sense than just if one person’s sick you shut down the whole school.” He also argued that reopening schools is a way to counter the negative mental health effects the pandemic can have on children. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Politics. The state’s reported coronavirus positive test rate has been depressed by the number of people who have tested negatively multiple times, according to health officials. Multiple positives are not being counted by the state, but every negative test is. So last Friday, for example, the state reported 6,148 positive cases. If you count all negative tests, the positive rate was 8.08 percent. But if you count just one negative test per person, the positive rate jumps to more than 15 percent. “It’s super safe to assume that the positivity rate in our community is higher than what we have,” said Orange County health officer Dr. Raul Pino. WFTV.

Around the state: Fifty-five school districts have now had their reopening plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. The latest are Bay, Citrus, Collier, Glades and Lake. Here are more developments on school reopenings and other news from the state’s districts and private schools:

South Florida: Districts in south Florida that are starting the school year online are promising a better experience for students this time around. The experience of last spring, better training for teachers, more time to prepare and a more structured approach will more closely mimic what students experience in classrooms, district leaders say. Broward County schools open Wednesday, and Miami-Dade’s and Palm Beach’s get started Aug. 31. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: Three of the seven school board members are critical of Superintendent Addison Davis for agreeing to the state’s demand to reopen schools for in-person learning without first discussing it with the board. Davis and the district’s attorney said it was unnecessary because they were simply making minor changes to an earlier reopening plan approved by the school board and the Florida Department of Education that set the first day of school as Aug. 24 with both in-person and virtual learning options. The revision makes Aug. 24 the first day for online learning for all students, with Aug. 31 now the first day for in-person instruction for those students who chose to return to classrooms. Gradebook. The school district is being sued over its rule requiring students to wear face masks in schools. Gradebook.

Orange: The district’s medical advisory committee is recommending that schools open as scheduled Friday, but only for elementary students. Middle and high school students should start 10 days later, if possible. “It may not be feasible, but we as medical providers should offer what we believe is the best advice,” said Dr. Annette Nielsen. The committee also advised the district to enforce face masks rules, and train employees how to use personal protection equipment. The school board meets today to discuss the recommendations. Schools began with online learning a week ago. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

Duval: For the county’s homeless students, being in school meant daily learning, getting fed and spending the day in air-conditioning. For their parents, it meant knowing their children were in a safe place. But that was before the pandemic. Now being in school could expose the children to the coronavirus, but keeping them out presents technological and other issues. “How do you do virtual school when you live in a tent?” asked Shannon Nazworth, chair of the state council on homelessness. Florida Times-Union.

Lee: County public and private schools are balancing their excitement over the first day of school with all the preparations made to cope with the coronavirus. Fort Myers News-Press. The school district is asking the community for donations of new, cloth face masks for county students. Fort Myers News-Press. A Fort Myers woman has begun a fund-raising drive to buy multicultural skin-tone crayons for Lee County schools. “Any little steps we can do that can make a difference,” said project sponsor Connie Bennett-Martin. Fort Myers News-Press.

Volusia: A district teacher turned to social media to raise money for a portable sink so students in her classroom can wash their hands regularly. Annette Fernandez, a 3rd-grade teacher at Turie T. Small Elementary, started a GoFundMe page Aug. 9 to raise $1,500. It’s raised nearly three times that already. Fernandez’s class is in a portable building that doesn’t have a bathroom. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: School board members have modified the district’s mandatory face mask policy for students by approving several exceptions. The new policy allows periodic mask breaks taken outdoors, no masks required while eating or during physical education classes, and permits elementary students and those with disabilities to wear face shields that “completely cover the face and extend below the chin.” Schools reopen today. Bradenton Herald. Four county schools — Bayshore High, Buffalo Creek Middle, Manatee Technical College and Palmetto High — reported positive coronavirus tests in the past week, according to district officials. Those officials would not say how many were affected, or whether those who tested positive were school employees. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. More than 130 Manatee children under the age of 18 have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past two weeks, according to health officials, and 1,130 since March. The positive test rate is 10.1 percent. The state average is 14.1 percent. Bradenton Herald.

Santa Rosa: Teachers protested the firing of at least 80 of the colleagues last week, less than a week before they were due to report to work. Another 80 were reassigned to remote teaching positions. Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick blamed declining enrollment for the layoffs. Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: The Dean Bozeman School is using shower curtains and PVC pipe to create separation between students in classrooms. Schools reopen Thursday. Panama City News Herald.

Martin: Four district classrooms are now under quarantine orders after the first week of school. Seventy-five South Fork High School students and six teachers have been ordered to stay home for 14 days and attend school remotely after a student showed symptoms associated with the coronavirus. Twenty-six students from two classrooms at J.D. Parker Elementary School, 11 students at Hobe Sound Elementary and nine students in a class at SeaWind Elementary School in Hobe Sound also will switch to remote learning for the next two weeks. Teachers can continue with online learning if they are not experiencing symptoms. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Flagler: In the past two weeks, 155 children under the age of 18 inn the county have been tested, and 24 were positive for a rate of 15.5 percent. Schools reopen Aug. 24, with 63 percent of students opting to return to classrooms and 37 percent choosing one of the remote options. Flagler Live.

Washington: Two district schools will have rapid response coronavirus testing available for students and staff, thanks to a grant from the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium. WMBB.

Bradford: Three days into the school year, the district recorded its first coronavirus case. Assistant superintendent David Harris would not reveal the school, or whether it was a student or employee who tested positive. The room has been deep-cleaned and is ready to be used today or needed, he said. WJXT.

Liberty: Schools reopen Aug. 31, with temperature checks for all students riding buses or entering buildings, masks required, and meals served in closed containers to be eaten outside or in the cafeteria with appropriate physical distancing. WFSU.

Resource officers’ value: A U.S. Department of Justice report suggests that having resource officers in schools “may have a profound impact on the school’s ability to prevent targeted violence and other maladaptive behaviors.The report also said there have been “numerous documented instances” of resource officers preventing school shootings. The report also recommends that every school resource or safety officer receive National Association of School Resource Officers training, in addition to meeting state training requirements. Education Dive.

Notable deaths: Marjorie Pearlson, an advocate of community school programs who helped open 60 of them in Miami-Dade County, has died at the age of 95 at her home in Pinecrest. Miami Herald.

School elections: Incumbent Manatee County School Board District 3 member Dave Miner has four opponents in the primary. They are: Mary Foreman, a certified public accountant and former member of the school district’s independent audit committee; Christine Dawson, who was a principal, teacher and reading coach in the district for three decades; Scott Boyes, who retired as the principal of Jessie P. Miller Elementary School earlier this year; and Richard Murphy, a former superintendent and school board member in Hendry County who has also taught in Manatee . Bradenton Herald. Nassau County school Superintendent Kathy Burns is being challenged by Dale Braddock and Albert Wagner. All three talk about their qualifications and what they see as the three top issues in the race. WJXT.

Personnel moves: Two Lake County schools have new principals. Gregg Dudley, who had been the principal at Rimes Early Learning and Literacy Center, is moving to Villages Elementary of Lady Lake to replace the retiring Dave Bordenkircher. And Micah Cook has been hired as principal at Wildwood Elementary School from Tallassee, Ala., where he was a middle school principal. Villages Daily Sun.

Employees and the law: A Marion County teacher’s assistant has been arrested and accused of having sex with a student. Police said Nick Elder, 31, who worked at Ocala Vanguard High School, had a 17-year-old girl living in his home. She told police she moved in with Elder in June, and felt obligated to have sex with him because she wasn’t paying rent. WKMG. Ocala Star-Banner.

Opinions on schools: Teachers are the Floridians on the front lines of our state’s newest front in the battle against COVID-19. We don’t truly know what is going to happen to them or what price some might pay for returning to the classroom. But we know these educators are willing to take these risks, without a doubt, in devotion to their schools, their kids, their careers, their communities and their larger commitment to the principles of education. Gov. Ron DeSantis would do well to understand they’re not doing it in service of his personal political agenda. Pensacola News Journal. Despite COVID, Florida’s Republican leaders think your kids and their teachers are expendable. Carl Hiaasen, Miami Herald.